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Secretary-General Urges Concrete Action to Advance Decolonization Agenda as Pacific Regional Seminar Convenes

Week of Solidarity with Non-Self-Governing Peoples, New Caledonia’s Upcoming Referendum, Western Sahara Representation Also Discussed

MANAGUA, 31 May — Opening the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the focus on commitments and actions within the framework of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2011-2020).

The Seminar, he said, would provide a key opportunity for the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — known informally as the Special Committee of 24 — to hear directly from representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories about their unique situations and problems.  It would also facilitate informal exchanges between administering Powers, other stakeholders, Non-Self-Governing Territories, the Special Committee, experts, civil society organizations and regional organizations

Hosted for the second consecutive year by the Government of Nicaragua, the event is taking place during the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The Regional Seminar has been held annually since 1990.

“Let us seize this opportunity to identify concrete actions to advance the decolonization agenda,” Mr. Ban said in a message delivered by Rie Kadota, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Decolonization Unit of the Department of Political Affairs.  He noted that, according to the United Nations Charter and relevant General Assembly resolutions, a full measure of self-government could be achieved through independence, integration or free association with another State.  The choice should be the result of the freely expressed will and desire of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  “I also count on the administering Powers to continue to fulfil the obligation to promote the well-being of the peoples under their administration,” he added.

Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela) Chair of the Special Committee, expressed solidarity with the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario) on the death of Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz and thanked the Government of Nicaragua for organizing the Regional Seminar for the second consecutive year.  The 2016 event was the sixth annual Seminar to be held during the Third International Decade, he noted, saying it would enable the Special Committee to redouble efforts to fulfil its mandate.  The Seminar should be an instrument of change in favour of decolonization, he added.

“It is now or never,” he emphasized.  “We must take action to ensure that self-determination of peoples is a reality,” he said, adding:  “We are not impartial.  We are in favour and support those that have not yet achieved self-determination.  Our commitment is to promote the decolonization process and to put an end to the shame of colonialism around the world.”  Expressing solidarity and commitment to strike down colonialism in all aspects, he continued: “We will not rest until all of those deprived of their sovereign and territorial integrity are liberated.”

Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative to the United Nations of Nicaragua, said her country had fought for years to gain national liberation and faithfully supported the liberation struggles of peoples around the world.  Nicaragua had always demonstrated solidarity with people under colonial rule fighting for independence and respected their right to self-determination.  However, many tasks lay ahead in the third International Decade and following the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations, she emphasized, describing the decolonization process and the exercise of the right to self-determination by the 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories as an immediate priority.  With more than half of the Non-Self-Governing Territories were in the Latin America and Caribbean region, including the special cases of Puerto Rico and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, she said Nicaragua was interested in contributing to the decolonization process by drawing upon its own experiences and aspirations, as well as the principles of peace, harmony, dialogue, unity and consensus.  The fact that participants in the Seminar had travelled from afar enabled the country to share its experience of liberation with others pursuing the same path, she added.

Throughout the day, experts and representatives expressed support for the efforts of the United Nations decolonization machinery and stressed the need to carry them further since 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remained.

An intense exchange occurred over whether to allow the recently elected representatives of two regions in Western Sahara to make statements during the meeting, with Morocco’s representative accusing the Special Committee’s Chair of demonstrating bias against their participation.

Participants also examined ways in which to bolster outreach activities during the annual Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and discussed the state of preparation for a referendum in New Caledonia in 2018.

At the meeting’s outset, participants observed a minute of silence in memory of the passing of Mohamed Abdelaziz, Secretary-General of Frente Polisario.

In other business, the Seminar adopted its provisional programme of work (document PRS/2016/CRP.2).  The Chair appointed the representatives of Bolivia and the Russian Federation as Vice-Chairs of the Seminar, and the representative of Chile as Rapporteur.

Organization of Seminar

After the Seminar took up its provisional programme of work, the representative of Morocco said he would have preferred not to take the floor at that time and that the documents he had distributed should be taken into consideration.  However, on 20 April, two democratically elected representatives of Western Sahara had addressed letters to the Chair of the Special Committee requesting an invitation to the Seminar.  On 18 May, the Chair had responded that the Bureau had unanimously decided not to invite them.  However, members of the Bureau had never been consulted, he said.  The Saharan representatives wished to participate in the Seminar in the context of the plan of action and agreed rules of procedure.  “They are not here to stir up trouble or challenge anything,” he emphasized.  They would simply provide information on the situation in which the Sahrawi people lived, and the economic projects undertaken in the region by the Government of Morocco, estimated to be worth $7 billion.

He went on to stress that it was not up to the Chair to decide who represented the Sahrawi people and who did not.  “We are not asking for special privilege for Morocco,” he added, reminding the Chair to carry out his duties within his role as Chair of a United Nations body and within the Special Committee’s rules of procedures.  Representatives of other Non-Self-Governing Territories were granted access, and those of Western Sahara must enjoy the same treatment, he said, adding that denying them was discrimination and selectivity.

Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), Special Committee Chair, said in response that the Seminar would comply with General Assembly resolutions 34/37 of 21 November 1979 and 35/19 of 11 November 1980, which stated that the people of Western Sahara were represented by Frente Polisario.  Under the Security Council, there was a mandate to resolve the matter of decolonization in Western Sahara through a referendum, he emphasized, saying the representative of Morocco could provide any economic and other information on progress in the Territory.  The Seminar had not been convened to discuss such substantive issues as had been raised by that representative, which should be discussed in the General Assembly, he added.

The representative of Saint Lucia requested that the views expressed by Morocco be given due consideration.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said the inhabitants of the Western Sahara regions must have an opportunity to speak at regional seminars.  More information was needed in the interest of common cause, he added, taking note of the statement by Morocco’s representative.

The representative of Sierra Leone said that, while the Chair’s position was that the issue should not dominate the Seminar, the statements by Morocco’s the representative required a full airing at some later stage.

A representative of the Office of Legal Affairs, given the floor, said that while the Secretariat was not in a position to take a stance on the issue, according to rules 6 and 7 of the Seminar’s rules of procedure (document A/AC.109/2016/19), participation in the event should be restricted to those with formal invitations from the Chair.  He recalled that General Assembly resolutions 34/37 and 35/19 stated that Frente Polisario was the representative of the people of Western Sahara, and pointed out the long-standing practice observed since 1997 of the Non-Self-Governing Territory of Western Sahara being represented exclusively by Frente Polisario.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda expressed support for the statements by his colleagues from Saint Lucia, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire and Grenada.

The representative of Grenada echoed that sentiment, and voiced support for hearing the Western Sahara representatives.

The representative of Algeria said he supported the interpretation of the Chair and the Office of Legal Affairs, emphasizing that Frente Polisario was the representative of Western Sahara.

The representative of Syria said the issue was clear and the Seminar was not the right place to override a decision of the General Assembly.  The Seminar’s long-standing practice must be followed.

The representative of Cuba agreed that the Special Committee’s practices and rules must be respected, emphasizing that it was not within its mandate to make any changes to General Assembly resolutions.

The representative of Venezuela agreed that standard Special Committee practice must be followed.

The representative of Morocco said the Chair had tried to displace the debate.  Explaining that he was not trying to debate the solution or the referendum in the Western Sahara, he said he was merely calling attention to the need to allow each and every member of a Non-Self-Governing Territory to speak.  He then read out operative paragraph 10 of General Assembly resolution 35/19, pointing out that the text’s reference to Frente Polisario was “representative of the people of Western Sahara”, without a definite article.  On the other hand, the two General Assembly resolutions cited made no reference to the “sole” representative.  The two of Western Sahara representatives were not present here to replace Frente Polisario, but merely to provide first-hand information to the Special Committee.  However, they were being censored, he said, asking the Chair to reconsider the matter so as to prevent the Seminar from becoming a “fiasco” since everyone had the right speak.

The Chair said he had taken note of that statement, adding that the provisional programme of work was adopted.

The representative of Morocco said that such a unilateral and “dictatorial” action to adopt the work programme was illegal, emphasizing that such decisions must be made by consensus, in accordance with rule 6 of the by the Special Committee’s rules of procedure.

The Chair said the Seminar could not be sabotaged and must move forward.

The representative of Bolivia called for calm, saying the issues on the agenda were important and emphasizing the need for adherence to the rules of procedure.  There was no need for a vote and, under rule 6, it was the exclusive domain of the Chair, not Special Committee members, to invite participants to speak.


Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), Special Committee Chair, opened discussion on the theme “Commitments and Actions for Decolonization in the Non-Self-Governing Territories — The Role of the Special Committee”, emphasizing the importance of carrying out the Special Committee’s work in Accordance with its mandate and rules of procedures.  With resolution 1514 (XV) as the basis of its legitimacy, its working methods must be governed by transparency and non-selectivity, he said, adding that it could not be influenced by groups attempting to impose their own agendas.  The Special Committee’s mandate was to execute relevant resolutions on a case-by-case basis, particularly with regard to sovereignty disputes, he said, emphasizing it was not prepared to accept the perpetuation of colonial rule.

He went on to reiterate that the Special Committee must continue to seek adequate means for implementation of the Declaration and the International Decade, ranging from negotiation to diplomacy.  General Assembly resolution 70/231 of 23 December 2015 requested that the Special Committee carry out one visiting mission per year to the Non-Self-Governing Territories, which provided an opportunity to express the undeniable usefulness of such visits, including the visit to New Caledonia in 2014.

CARLYLE CORBIN, expert, said the role of the United Nations was divided into three historic periods:  the early period leading to the adoption of the Declaration, from 1946 to 1960); the acceleration of decolonization, from 1960 to 1990; and the deceleration of decolonization, from 1990 to the present.  During the first period, General Assembly resolutions on 11 small island Non-Self-Governing Territories had been consolidated into a single “omnibus” document as a compromise in response to proposals by administering Powers to replace the various texts with a statement of decolonization principles and to remove any specific reference to the situation in the Territories.

The critical Subcommittee on Small Territories, where the specific conditions of each of small territory were examined, had been eliminated, but never replaced despite several proposals, he continued.  From 1946 to 1971, calls had continued for the implementation of General Assembly resolutions, but the participation of many Non-Self-Governing Territories had declined because they had seen no progress in implementation.  Only Timor-Leste had achieved full self-government during the 25-year period from 1990, while French Polynesia had been re-inscribed on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, adding that the Secretary-General’s report on the third International Decade shed scant light on implementation of the decolonization mandate.  Substantive activities included in the plan of action for the three Decades had been ignored.

He went on to state that during the second Decade, Saint Lucia, then Chair of the Special Committee, had commissioned the Programme of Implementation of the Decolonization Mandate (document A/60/853-E/2006/75), which had been endorsed by the General Assembly.  The plan of action was linked to decolonization resolutions of relevant United Nations implementing bodies, but it had never been carried out, he said, adding that the United Nations system’s inability to give effect to the decolonization mandate had led to a “repetition of processes” whereby resolutions were adopted without accountability and the process repeated itself with the adoption of nearly identical resolutions in each succeeding year.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Territories had become increasingly complex, requiring specific diagnostic tools to assess the nature of their political arrangements in accordance with, he said.  Such an assessment had been instrumental in making the case for re-inscribing French Polynesia, he said, adding that indicators included the degree of awareness within the Territories of their options in choosing their own political status and overall self-determination process, the unilateral authority of the administering Powers to legislate for the Territories, and the evolution of internal governance capacity, among others.

He emphasized that the United Nations system must be creative and flexible to implement General Assembly resolutions, including by adjusting the Organization’s decolonization budget.  Case-by-case assessments must be initiated for each Territory, with or without the participation of the respective administering Powers, which must be reminded that the decolonization process should not be unduly influenced by changes in the demographic composition of the Territories.

SERGEI CHERNIAVSKY, expert, recounted the history of the annual Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, established in 1972.  A plethora of outreach activities took place during the Week to spread awareness of the United Nations decolonization agenda among the international community.  Beginning in 1980, some Member States had sought to dilute that message, which had gradually shrunk to perfunctory references in the Special Committee’s reports on its regional seminars.  To reverse that negative trend, he suggested, the Special Committee should take small, gradual steps to ensure compliance with resolution 2911 (XXVII) of 1972, which had established the annual Week of Solidarity each May.

He said that, in order to maintain a global focus on the decolonization agenda, the Special Committee should plan and implement concrete activities in observance of the Week of Solidarity, either immediately before or after the annual regional seminar.  Such activities should include a special meeting devoted to the Week of Solidarity — with the participation of the Secretary-General as well as the Presidents of the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and Trusteeship Council — an exhibit at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library displaying documents on the history of the Declaration, and a photo exhibition on the history of the Special Committee.  They should also feature the screening of documentaries from the United Nations archives on liberation movements in Africa, an interview with the Chair of the Special Committee on United Nations Radio, and its subsequent broadcast on local radio stations around the world.

In addition, he suggested issuing a commemorative United Nations stamp devoted to the Week of Solidarity, which would mark its forty-fifth anniversary in 2017.  The Special Committee, in collaboration with the Departments of Public Information and Political Affairs, could compile a press kit on the Declaration and the importance of the Week of Solidarity, as well as forge a close working relationship with non-governmental organizations involved in decolonization, asking the Secretariat to compile such a list.

He said the Special Committee should also, through the Committee on Conferences, request a special commemorative General Assembly meeting to celebrate its fifty-fifth anniversary in November, during the main part of the Assembly’s regular session.  The decolonization agenda could also be promoted through outreach to major entities, such as the African Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Organization of American States and the Pacific Islands Forum.  Additionally, the Special Committee must be fully aware of its budgetary entitlements in order to plan such activities effectively and successfully, he stressed, paying particular attention to strategic outreach activities.  Every effort should be made to prevent any reduction in the Special Committee’s budget.

JOSEPH BOSSANO, former Chief Minister of Gibraltar, responding to comments about efforts by administering Powers to dilute the Special Committee’s role in 1980, recalled that, at that time, he had been in office and had been urged on the eve of his departure from Gibraltar not to attend the Special Committee’s session.  Upon refusing, he had been told that the Special Committee had outlived its usefulness and was packed with Marxists, he said, recalling that relations between the Special Committee and administering Powers had been very constrained at that time.  He said he recognized the importance of representatives of the Territories engaging directly with the Special Committee, which was not the same thing as providing it with a written report.  He suggested that the Week of Solidarity directly involve people in the Territories.

The representative of Cuba expressed regret over United Nations inertia on decolonization issues and support for Mr. Cherniavsky’s proposals, saying the Special Committee’s work should be more visible and deserved more funding.  The Committee on Programme and Coordination would soon meet and it would be a mistake not to identify ways to have it approve additional resources for decolonization.

The representative of Indonesia noted the challenges of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, saying they affected the overall situation of Non-Self-Governing Territories, especially those related to climate change.

The representative of Venezuela stressed the importance of a case-by-case approach, adding that Mr. Corbin’s analysis and proposals would be the right path to follow in carrying out the Special Committee’s work.  The administering Powers were showing a willingness to support the Special Committee and to take the necessary steps to fulfil its mandate.

The representative of Papua New Guinea said all candidates for Secretary-General should be asked how they planned to advance the decolonization agenda.  Commenting on several of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he commended the consensus achieved on procedures for the referendum in New Caledonia, but stressed that more work must be done to ensure that upcoming elections did not disrupt it.  He urged the administering Power to share important information and to build upon the positive momentum of its collaboration with all concerned parties.

The representative of Algeria said that a new challenge facing the Special Committee was related to its own integrity, emphasizing that divisions among members must not be tolerated.  Algeria agreed with proposals for revitalizing the Special Committee’s work through greater outreach and media coverage.

WILMA REVERON-COLLAZO, expert, said the nature and origin of resolution 1514 (XV) had been lost over the years, adding that the only language that imperialistic colonial Powers understood was that of money.  The Special Committee would be quite effective if the right to reparations was put into effect, she said, suggesting that administering Powers be required to contribute to a reparations fund.

Also speaking during the discussion were representatives of the Russian Federation, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

Review by Non-Self Governing Territories in Pacific Region

EDWARD ALVAREZ, Director-General, Commission on Decolonization of Guam, delivered a statement on behalf of Governor Eddie Calvo, saying that, as part of his annual State of the Island address on 31 March, the Governor had outlined a bold plan to hold a decolonization plebiscite by November.  “It’s time we confronted the fact that, for nearly 400 years, the state of the island has also been colonial.  It is the unchanged and unrepentant shadow cast upon our unshackled destiny,” he said.  Some people wished to build a wall to keep non-Americans out of the country, he noted, asking whether the people of Guam would be considered Americans when they knocked at the gate.  According to local law, such a plebiscite could be held only after 70 per cent of native inhabitants, the Chamorro, were registered to vote, pointing out that fewer than 10,000 native inhabitants were currently registered.  The law’s vagueness made it difficult to determine the quota for holding a plebiscite, and the new proposal sought to circumvent that requirement by using a different legal mechanism — the proposition/referendum process whereby private individuals could help to promote important community and Government issues.  Community activists had criticized the proposal, which could potentially violate several laws, notably by opening a referendum to all voters, regardless of race or status.

In April, the Commission on Decolonization had agreed to endorse the Governor’s education plan, and with academics from the University of Guam, was working to create and approve educational materials, he said.  The Office of the Governor was collaborating closely with the Commission, which, earlier this month, had approved a series of narratives about Guam’s colonial history and decolonization process, as well as short descriptions of each of the three political options for Guam — statehood, free association and independence.  The materials would be used in brochures and social media outreach posts to jump-start the education process, he said.  The Commission and the Governor’s Office had also agreed to conduct two public opinion surveys, the first this month and the second in July, to ascertain if the native population was ready for a vote.  The survey results would be analysed during the Commission’s session in July, and if there was a significant increase in awareness, the education campaign and plans to hold the plebiscite during the November elections would move forward.  He said that under the current administration, local monies for political-status education had been provided for the first time in nearly two decades.  Most of the Commission’s current $250,000 budget was earmarked for the three political-status task forces.

After years of requesting funds and receiving confusing messages about how to apply for a grant, the Office of the Governor had been told that the United States Department of the Interior had approved a $300,000 grant, to be disbursed in July, for the creation of materials for a campaign of decolonization education — the first such monetary support from the United States.  “We are hopeful that this might indicate a shift in [United States] policy to its Non-Self-Governing Territories such as Guam, where they will be more willing to engage in discussions about our future and offer true support to help push us towards true self-governances and self-determination.”  Last month, 800 high school students and community members had held Guam’s first-ever high school debate on decolonization, organized in coordination with the Commission and the Department of Education.  It had comprised three teams, each representing a different political-status option, and the winner would not be the team receiving the largest number of votes in general, but the one demonstrating the greatest ability to convince voters to support its preferred status.  Pre-debate polls showed that 51 per cent of the population favoured statehood, followed by 30 per cent supporting free association, and 19 per cent for independence.  After the debate, the independence team had been declared the winner, with 34 per cent of the vote, he said.

JEAN-LOUIS D’ANGLEBERMES, Vice-President of the Government of New Caledonia, said that since taking office in April 2015, his Government had not missed a single meeting of the Special Committee and the Fourth Committee and was committed to participating in all regional seminars.  It was working to ensure the smooth emancipation and decolonization of New Caledonia.  Regarding the recent electoral dispute in the Territory, he said the 1998 Nouméa Accord had enabled New Caledonia to continue the emancipation process within a clear institutional framework and to hold a referendum in 2018.  A quantitative assessment of the dispute had been conducted by Ferdinand Melin-Soucramanien, a public law professor and trusted expert, and signatories to the Nouméa Accord had agreed to declare the case concerning entries on the special electoral lists until 2015 “politically closed”.

He went on to state that while he supported independence, the President of the Government did not, yet he was attending the Seminar as a representative of the entire government, which was working with all Nouméa Accord partners and local institutions for the Territory’s institutional, economic social and cultural development.  The Government had developed an employment and professional training policy and was reforming the public service and education sectors.  A total of $102 million had been invested in 2015, and $130 million in 2016 to support economic growth and job creation.  Tax breaks had been granted for the productive, housing and tourism sectors in addition to schemes intended to boost exports, public transport development projects, and a master plan covering land, air and sea transport.

An energy plan, including an adaptation plan for climate change, would be submitted to the New Caledonia Congress in the coming weeks, and a an agreement between France and the Territory would enable the latter to play its full part in the historical process of the Paris Agreement, ending its exclusion from global climate efforts since the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol.  He also cited to plans to strengthen New Caledonia’s health-care system and social safety net, and to advance its integration into the region, including by becoming a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum.  Many projects had resulted from the gradual transfer of powers from France to New Caledonia, in accordance with the Nouméa Accord and the 1999 Organic Law, he said.

The representative of France said in the ensuing discussion that his Government had worked with the United Nations on the decolonization process since the signing of the Nouméa Accord.  In January, it had conveyed to the Decolonization Unit its efforts to that end, transmitting information under Article 73(e) of the United Nations Charter.  It had accepted a group of international experts into the work of the Special Administrative Commissions  responsible for updating the electoral rolls in New Caledonia, he said, emphasizing France’s commitment to the Territory’s democratic process.  The Congress had yet to set a date for the transfer of certain powers from France to New Caledonia, with the exception of defence, security and justice.  Other transfers were planned, accompanied by financial compensation from France, which would work productively to help New Caledonia achieve accession to full sovereignty, should it choose that path.

The representative of Cuba asked the representative of Guam about concerns expressed over the relocation of United States military forces in the Pacific and how that would impinge on decolonization efforts.  What was the situation now, and what efforts were being made to ensure that the decolonization education campaign was impartial?

The representative of Venezuela said the 2018 referendum must be held in the most transparent conditions possible, and stressed that the native Kanak people seeking self-determination deserved support.  The dialogue in New Caledonia must continue until the Territory achieved self-determination and was removed from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

JULIEN BOANEMOI, President, Federation of GDPL of New Caledonia, said thousands of families had not yet regained their land rights, and the Government of France had not lived up to its responsibilities.  Demands for land use reform must be respected, he emphasized, calling also for the creation of a development.  He asked the United Nations to give the GDPL the necessary land-management resources.

ROCH WAMYTAN, President of the UC-FLNKS Group, said New Caledonia was at a crucial crossroads.  France’s colonization of New Caledonia was not a closed political file, yet Paris was trying to make the local population believe that it had.  The Kanak people had become a minority in their own land following France’s colonization of the island, he said, noting that 25,000 Kanaks had not been inscribed on the electoral list under the pretext that they were not previously inscribed, which made them ineligible to participate in the self-determination referendum for which they had been waiting 40 years.  Asking whether the administering Power was setting up conditions and deep-rooted obstacles to retain control, he said New Caledonia’s independence must be won through a vote.  The colonizing State had used and abused the process, imposing a settlement and a colonization policy with the aim of ensuring that the Kanak people and supporters of independence were a minority, he said.

Ms. Reveron-Collazo also spoke during the discussion.


*     A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.